Operation Peer Support
Operation Peer Support (OPS) is a program designed by the Blinded Veterans Association to assist blind and visually impaired veterans and their families with educational resources and adaptive sports in order to regain independence, social skills, and confidence through rehabilitation.
On December 2, 11 blinded veterans ran amongst the 48 blind and visually impaired runners during the California International Marathon. Here a blinded runner is shown with his Guide approaching the finish line.
Michaun Harrison attempts a putt during the National Disabled Veterans Tee Tournament held September 9-14, 2018.
Emerald Coast Regional Group President Darryl Goldsmith proudly displays his prize catch of the day sponsored by Heroes On The Water. Darryl was the #1 Fisherman with a catch of 29 fish. He caught 5 Amberjacks 40 inches long
A joint initiative of the national Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and Blind Veterans UK is bringing together veterans with vision loss from the United States and the United Kingdom. The occasion will be Project Gemini exchange, scheduled for October 13-19 in Birmingham.
Now in its ninth year and known as Project Gemini for the transatlantic cable that connects the two countries and continents, the week of activities will include tours of the VA Blind Rehabilitation Center, rock wall climbing, scuba diving, archery, Red Mountain Park Zip Line and a tour of the Southern Museum of Flight.
BVA National President Army Maj. Tom Zampieri (Ret.), said “These veterans learn from one another and share their experiences in the area of blind rehabilitation, adaptive technology, resilience, and recovery after sight loss. As peers we understand these challenges together.”
Zampieri also emphasized the importance of Project Gemini in fostering understanding between the nations as participants establish new friendships, share knowledge of rehabilitation and communicate their personal experiences regarding their own adjustment to blindness.
BVA participants include three U.S. Navy veterans: Lonnie Bedwell, Marlene Davis-Lilly and Adrian “AJ” Mohammed, as well as Army veteran Raquel Welch. Participating from England are Blind Veterans UK President Colin Williamson, Major Peter Graves. Royal Air Force member Kerry Reed and Navy veteran Janice Price. Retired Army Ranger Joe Amerling from Georgia will serve as a volunteer coordinator. Lakeshore Foundation is supporting the veteran’s various events all week.
BVA and Blind Veterans UK together established Project Gemini in May, 2011. Each year four U.S. blinded veterans are hosted by the Blind Veterans UK. Project Gemini seeks to raise public awareness of the issues facing war veterans with vision loss and help them to discover opportunities for their lives after blindness. Project Gemini was recognized in the UK with the “Soldiering on Award 2017” in Britain’s International Category. It recognizes individuals and groups who successfully work together with the armed forces community in the United Kingdom.
Blind Veterans UK is a national charity, working on behalf of visually impaired ex-servicemen. Tracing its founding back to March, 1915, during World War I, it offers free and comprehensive support to UK blinded veterans. For additional information, visit blindveterans.org.uk.
BVA’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945, when World War II blinded servicemen convened in a formal meeting at Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital in Avon, Connecticut. The association was established at that time to represent blinded veterans. For more information, visit www.bva.org
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Former U.S. Army Private First Class
As a former private in the United States Army, Welch’s military career was in logistics where she was stationed in Camp Humphreys in Korea. In 2009 she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, causing complete vision loss. A resident of Biloxi, Mississippi, she is a single mother of four children, two boys and two girls. She enrolled in the Biloxi, Mississippi Dept. of Veterans Affairs Blind Rehabilitation Center in 2012, and will continue further training at the Hines, Illinois, VA later this year. Welch joined the Blinded Veterans Association in 2018 where she was sponsored to the organization’s convention through Operation Peer Support. She is an active member of OPS and the Women Veterans Group of the BVA. Ms. Welch enjoys mosaic art, listening to audio books and long distance running. Welch said she is excited to participate in Project Gemini and welcomes the opportunity to meet other veterans with similar interests and experiences.
Former U.S. Navy Specialist
Marlene Davis- Lilly served in the United States Navy as an Aviation Boatswains Mate and was stationed at Naval Air Station Sigonella Sicily. Davis-Lily leads a kayak team in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is married with two children and three grandchildren. She has served as a police officer and a mental health social worker. Currently she is the vice president of the BVA’s Arkansas Regional Group. She is an accredited Veteran Service Officer who assists veterans in the claims process and a member of volunteer services of her local VA medical center.
Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer
Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer Lonnie Bedwell was critically injured in a hunting accident in 1997 that took his sight. That didn’t stop him from raising three daughters as a single father and becoming a renowned adventure sports athlete. He holds first blind descents kayaking the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, the Zambezi River in Africa and the Gauley River in West Virginia. He was named a 2015 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. He has climbed notable peaks such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and is an avid downhill skier. He volunteers in his hometown in southern Indiana as a roofer and construction worker supporting veterans related nonprofits and local schools. He is an advocate for blind/visually impaired individuals, veterans, and individuals facing adversity in their lives. His goal is to motivate and inspire people to embrace life with confidence and courage. He has appeared on the Today Show and the Steve Harvey Show and on Outside TV, and has been featured in many news outlets and publications. He is the author of the award-winning book “226: How I Became the First Blind Person to Kayak the Grand Canyon” and shares his passion for adventure and overcoming obstacles with audiences around the country as a motivational speaker.
Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer
Adrian “AJ” Mohammed served in the U.S. Navy as a Master at Arms First Class Petty Officer. He was deployed with the Marine and Naval Security Forces from 2003-2004 operating in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He lost most his vision through injuries while on patrol in May, 2004. He invested two years recovering a military hospital. Adaptive Sports is what made a difference in his life. Having a constant pursuit and striving to do new things and break down barriers is what truly makes him unique despite his injuries. Being outdoors, meeting new people, inspiring others and paving the way for other blind veterans has become his passion. He said his desire is for other blinded Veterans to “See no limits” in what they can do.
BLIND VETERANS OF UNITED KINGDOM
Peter Graves is a former Major in the British Army who served for more than 40 years in various roles. He is parachute trained and saw service in the Middle East, Africa, Norway, the USA and Germany. After service he worked as a teacher and now works as a moderator in schools around the country. His interests include skiing, playing the guitar and harmonica and generally enjoying life.
Kerry Reed is a former Royal Air Force Aerospace Systems Operator and served in the UK before being medically discharged. She now works in our Llandudno center in North Wales as a masseur.
Janice Price joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1982 and trained as an Aircraft Engineer. She left the service after 30 years as a Chief Petty Officer, serving predominantly in the UK. Interestingly, she never once went to sea in all of her 30 years of service.
Colin Williamson joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1972 and was discharged in 1977. He served two combat tours in Northern Ireland in the mid- to late seventies on Britain’s Operation Banner. He went on to serve a further eight years in the Reserve Army where he specialized in communications and battlefield reconnaissance. He was discharged with the rank of corporal. He was appointed President of Blind Veterans UK in 2017. Colin initiated Project Gemini in 2011 with help and support from the Blinded Veterans Association National President and close personal friend Thomas Zampieri. Williamson invests what little spare time he has going to the gym and generally keeping physically fit.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Monica Gilmore
October 11, 2019 252-822-3486
Operation Peer Support Sponsored May 2019 Event
The 2019 Project Gemini BVUK exchange program is May 17th-25th, 2019 in
Brighton, UK in which three OPS veterans and one sighted guide will participate
in the exchange program with BVUK veterans. During this time the veterans will
experience the BVUK veterans and share knowledge, insights, and friendship with
also South African war blinded veterans for seven busy days. The exchange will
again address the similarities and goals to partner in military eye trauma,
Traumatic Brain Injury, Vision research, and history from World War One to today
vision rehabilitation programs offered to veterans within each of the three countries
represented. Adaptive sports for the blind will be put to practical use during the
week with variety of events, along with a tour of the Blind Veterans UK
rehabilitation Brighton center, and visits to nearby historic sites.
During the exchange, both groups of veterans will also share about coping with
blindness and the “war stories” that are part of their personal peer support adjustment to blindness and subsequent rehabilitation.
Participants consist of the following:
- Retired U.S. Army Captain Rain Rich, Former U.S. Navy Petty Officer
- Lonnie Bedwell, Former Seaman of U.S. Navy
- Lawrence Harrison, sighted guide
- Retired U.S. Army First Sergeant Reynaldo Reyes
Contact Persons for Interview:
Operation Peer Support will host the 2019 Survived and Fierce Ranger
Appalachian Trail March in the Northern Appalachian Trails in Georgia starting
May 28, 2019. This event will consist of a first time 4-blinded female veteran
team (Jeanie Murphy, Shianti Lee, Marlene Davis-Lilly, and Monaca Gilmore) in
which all are members of Blinded Veterans Association. This blinded veteran
team will participate and conquer several days of adventurous hiking. Overall, this
event will allow a diverse and dedicated group of veterans to persevere through the
challenges presented by training and the natural environment. Multiple news
agencies have committed to support this mission with much needed press to bring
awareness to the Blinded Veterans Association. This is an all exclusive trip which
includes lodging, transportation, and meals.
Contact Persons for Interview:
Name: Jeanie Murphy
Team Leader: Monaca Gilmore
Email: [email protected]
Operation Peer Support Sponsored June 2019 Event
Operation Peer Support partners with the Blind Endeavors to host a Blind
Endeavors Ranger Endeavor June 2nd-8th, 2019. This event will consist of some members of the Blinded Veterans Association who will complete complicated ranger tasks and skills on the Northern Appalachian Trails. Some of the tasks will consist of the following: climbing, rappelling, range shooting, and possible water operations. The team will carry required equipment and rations to sustain themselves between mission support sites (MSS) where additional supplies will be located. MS sites will be pre-established by a support team that will provide a Spartan, but adequate camp for the teams each evening. The participants will prove that vision loss is no more than an obstacle that can be overcome with hard word
and a never dying sprit.
Contact Persons for Interview:
Name: Steve Baskis
Name: Joe Amerling
A: An ongoing effort to link recently blinded veterans with other OIF/OEF blinded service members and their counterparts from previous conflicts. Operation Peer Support’s highest priority is to assist these men and women through the process of adjustment to vision loss by introducing them to and connecting them with the tools and resources they will need to establish new goals. “Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans” is the Association’s motto and serves as the ideal in its advocacy efforts on behalf of all blinded veterans.
A: Physical and emotional isolation is a huge issue for those who have only recently lost their eyesight. The process of recovery from any tragic or traumatic event is characterized by a period of grieving followed by rehabilitation and restoration. The life cycle of a wounded soldier often consists of six states: injury, treatment, rehabilitation, evaluation, transition and maintenance. Substantial changes are required as a result of such shattering events before a meaningful and productive new life can be achieved. Similar to the grief experienced by people following any catastrophic event, blinded veterans must also grieve over their loss of vision. The veterans attending the BVA convention meet with other OIF and OEF veterans who are among the few who understand what they are truly going through. They will also be able to meet veterans blinded in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They will hear and gain strength from their experiences. Throughout the process, BVA will be there in a variety of ways, but primarily through its Veteran Services Program, to help service members and their families along the way.
A: Exact numbers are hard to come by but 4,790 service members with penetrating eye injuries have been evacuated from OIF and OEF operations as of November 2008. The long-term consequences of these injuries are still unknown. More than 500 have eye injuries that classify them as low-vision. According to VA Blind Rehabilitation Service, at least 140 of these are legally blind as of May 2009. The Army in March 2008 reported that 395 service members had been blinded in one eye. The statistics on Marines and those in other branches of service have not yet been disclosed.
A: Tax-deductible donations can be made directly to the Blinded Veterans Association by mail or phone by credit card. BVA can also be reached at 800-669-7079. Please help these brave American service members and family members get the support they need from fellow blinded veterans. The organization is a 501(c)(3) organization, ID #53-0214281.